August 19, 2022

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The largest telescope in the southern hemisphere: a historic observatory that opens its doors to the public

The largest telescope in the southern hemisphere: a historic observatory that opens its doors to the public

It has been installed on top of Cerro San Cristobal since 1903 by the University of California’s Lake Observatory, The historic Manuel Foster Observatory for decades has been the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. Historic monument declared in 2010 By the National Monuments Board, it was not only the first building to occupy this famous hill in the capital, but it also allowed for important developments in astronomy at the time.

Now, after saving its spaces, the observatory will open its doors, thanks to an agreement between The Astrophysical Institute of the Catholic University and Metropolitan Park of Santiago. Public visits will begin gradually with the goal of a permanent opening, starting with a white march Departs next Sunday 26th June – between 10:00 and 16:30 -, While guided tours will also be offered in schools a few days a week.

Entrance to the observatory, which is via the entrance to Plaza México, at Cumbre Station, for this special day will cost 1,000 pesos for adults, including a souvenir as a gift (children and seniors with free access). Groups of astronomy students will act as observers and lead visits, explaining part of the history and functions of this historic telescope, which were fundamental to the ability to measure the speed with which the Sun moves through the Milky Way, allowed the study of stars up to twenty times greater than ours, witnessed solar eclipses and were used to verify the passage of the Milky Way. Halley’s Comet in 1986 The following year, a 1987 supernova occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

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Spaces such as the dome of the observatory dome in which the telescope is located, or the development room, where old furnaces used to increase the sensitivity of photographic plates are still preserved, may still be preserved by the public. The tour covers more than a hundred years of history, since the arrival of the observatory in Chileuntil the decade of the thirties, the Pontifical Catholic University received the endoscope as a donation from the politician and professor of this house of studies, Manuel Foster ricaparin, from which it takes its name.

During the following decades, the observatory remained active in important discoveries. In the forties of the last century, for example, the study of stars was twenty times the mass of the Sun (the so-called Beta Cephei variables), It allowed them to use them as standard “candles” to accurately determine distances in the nearby universe. In 1958, a total solar eclipse was recorded, images of which are still preserved in Foster.

One of the historical photos kept in the observatory.

In the mid-1990s, the rapid growth of Santiago, as well as the gradual increase in UCSD astronomers’ access to large, modern observatories in the North, They reduced the frequency of notes on Foster, which stopped working again in 1995.

During the following years, it only remained open on special dates such as Heritage Day. In the latest commemoration of the heritage carried out in 2022 with face-to-face activities across the country (on May 28 and 29), The Foster Observatory has reopened after several years of being closed due to the pandemicand received extensive visits from the public who attended Metropolitan Park: more than 2,500 people came to visit the two days of the celebration.

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In this new stage The Foster Observatory will be used primarily for educational and scientific outreach purposes, allowing to explain various astronomical phenomena, such as transits, eclipses, planets and moons of the solar system, Earth’s moon and satellites. We invite schools and the general public to discover this wonderful past, which today makes us the country with the best observatories in the world. A journey through time, where they will be able to learn about the first steps of astronomy in Chile, the great astrophysical achievements of this observatory, and all related sciences, he concludes. Thomas BocciaD., Professor of Astronomy and Head of Publication at the UC Institute for Astrophysics and CATA Scholar.